BPA ban move backed by MEPs

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

The European Commission would need to draft regulations for any ban on BPA to happen
The European Commission would need to draft regulations for any ban on BPA to happen

Related tags Food contact materials European union European food safety authority

An EU-wide ban of bisphenol A (BPA) in food contact materials (FCMs) has been backed by Members of the European Parliament (MEPs).

The vote was part of an amendment from the Greens group, signed by 69 MEPs, to a draft implementation report on regulation of FCMs.

MEPs said materials such as plastics and ceramics have been tested for safety to human health while others including varnishes and coatings, inks and adhesives, have not.

They added the EU Commission should prioritise drawing up specific measures for paper and board, varnishes and coatings, metals and alloys, printing inks and adhesives given market prevalence and risks they could pose.

The report was approved by 559 votes to 31​ with 26 abstentions.

FCMs are subject to legally binding rules at EU level​. Specific measures have been adopted for four of them. For the others, Member States may adopt specific measures at national level.

The Joint Research Centre of the European Commission is in the process of a study to give an overview concerning FCMs for which no specific measures are in place at EU level.

Lack of harmonised rules

Rapporteur Christel Schaldemose (S&D, DK) said the lack of harmonised rules causes problems for consumers, companies and authorities.

“In reality, it means that the single market is not a single market: some countries have high standards, other low standards,” ​she said.

“We know from various studies that it is what is in the packaging that is causing health problems. The EU should therefore revise the current legislation. Food safety should mean the same thing across the EU.”

Greens said the vote sends a strong signal to the European Commission.

“Greens welcome this vote and the introduction of this specific amendment on BPA, which is a strong call to urgently tackle shortcomings in the implementation and enforcement of the existing legislation on food contact materials.

“Now, it’s time for the Commission to act. Greater focus on risk assessment, traceability and enforcement would ensure more safety on what ends up on citizens’ plates.”

Amendment based on ‘tenuous logic’

The BPA Coalition said the amendment shows members of the European Parliament have decided they know more about the impact of FCMs on human health than the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

“This amendment is based on tenuous logic at best. The request for a general ban of BPA in food contact materials contradicts the conclusion of the EFSA from January 2015 which concluded that there is “No consumer health risk from Bisphenol A exposure”.

“[The] ban on BPA in food contacts called for by MEPs in October is misleading, as it discredits the work of Europe’s expert toxicologists and scientists, creates and exacerbates problems of trust in public agencies such as EFSA, and undermines other important legislative efforts.”

EFSA began another evaluation of the chemical earlier this year with a final scientific opinion expected in 2018.

The agency completed its first full risk assessment in 2006. The most recent review in 2015 of exposure and toxicity concluded it poses no health risk to consumers of any age at current exposure levels.

It set a temporary tolerable daily intake (TDI) for BPA pending the results of a two-year study by the US National Toxicology Program in 2017.

Scientific evidence on potential effects of BPA on the immune system raised by the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) prompted EFSA’s review.

BPA out of packaging

Breast Cancer UK wrote to MEPs asking them to support the report and amendment on BPA, and said it welcomed the result.

The organisation said the report argues current rules on chemicals in food packaging are incomplete, and calls for comprehensive EU wide regulations.

“The European Parliament has spoken, and it has sent a clear message to the European Commission that we need to get hazardous chemicals like BPA out of our food packaging. The ball is now in the European Commission’s court – it is up to the Commission to begin drafting improved regulations that protect our health.”

CHEM Trust said it had been campaigning for stronger laws on chemicals in food contact material for over two years but the European Commission had not taken any substantive action.

Dr Michael Warhurst, CHEM Trust executive director, said the Commission must now act and draw up protective regulations.

We welcome this strong statement from the European Parliament, sending a clear signal to the European Commission and EU governments that it is not acceptable to have such inadequate safety regulations on the use of chemicals in everyday food contact materials like food packaging.”

He also welcomed the drive to remove BPA from food contact applications.

“BPA has been known for decades to be an endocrine disrupter, and it is shocking how long it is taking for its use to be properly regulated. A ban across all food contact uses – including paper and card – would be an important step forward in public protection.”

Specific FCM measures move welcomed

The European paper and board industry said specific food contact measures have only been developed for plastics, ceramics and regenerated cellulose as well as active and intelligent packaging.

The Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI), International Confederation of Paper and Board Converters in Europe (CITPA) and European Federation of Corrugated Board Manufacturers (FEFCO) said paper-based packaging is number one in food applications with 13.8 million tonnes annually.

“In the absence of common EU rules diverging national measures are now seriously hampering the internal market. These inconsistencies have created legal uncertainty and risks for the entire value chain, and hinder consumers’ confidence in food safety.

“The paper industry has always prioritised consumer safety and has set world-class standards for producing safe packaging materials. But it cannot replace the role of the legislator in setting a level playing field and European-wide levels for safety.”

Nessa Childers, member of the European Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) committee, said different enforcement efforts remain inconsistent across national jurisdictions.

“The impact of inks, glues and coatings, as well as substances present in recycled paper and cardboard has been underestimated, and the combined effect of various substances present in the same item remains absent from the European Food Safety Authority’s risk assessments,” ​she said.

“This is a particular concern for foods which are much more likely to absorb chemicals leeched from their containers: liquids, fatty foods and products with a long shelf-life, such as conserves.”

The European Container Glass Federation (FEVE) also welcomed the report on FCM.

The report shows the need to make sure materials in contact with food such as packaging are safe for health, whether or not they are produced with recycled materials.

FEVE said to guarantee safety while increasing recycling rates, stronger traceability of chemicals intentionally used in production of materials in contact with food is needed and an assessment of the migration properties of all recycled materials in contact with food is essential.

Ban Poisonous Additives Act

Meanwhile, Senator Edward J. Markey and Congresswoman Grace Meng introduced legislation late last month to ban BPA from food and beverage containers.

The “Ban Poisonous Additives (BPA) Act” requires that reusable food and beverage containers (such as Thermoses) that contain BPA and other containers (such as food or beverage cans) containing BPA cannot be sold.

Senator Markey said it’s time to take the concern out of canned goods by removing BPA from food and beverage containers.

“The Ban Poisonous Additives Act will help ensure that our factories and our entire food supply are free from this damaging chemical.”

Congresswoman Meng said the bill would ensure kids and families are not exposed to the substance and banning it was ‘common sense’.

“It would also better protect factory workers who manufacture products that contain this hazardous chemical.”

The legislation would also prohibit replacing BPA with chemicals such as Bisphenol -F (BPF) or Bisphenol -S (BPS). 

Janet Nudelman, director of Program and Policy at the Breast Cancer Fund, one of the bill’s supporters, said: “We commend Senator Markey and Representative Meng for their tireless efforts to secure stricter FDA regulation of the toxic chemicals used in food packaging that are contributing to an increased risk of breast cancer, reproductive harm and a host of other diseases.”

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